Friday, 10 October 2014

The disaster of Coronel: 1 November 1914

East Budleigh’s Herman George Hart is remembered on the Plymouth Naval Memorial, pictured above.  Standing on The Hoe, the memorial is one of three set up after the First World War to commemorate those members of the Royal Navy who had no known grave, the majority of deaths having occurred at sea where no permanent memorial could be provided 

Image credit: Commonwealth War Graves Commission

While the Western Front in 1914 was dominated by engagements between the British and German armies during the Race for the Sea, the countries’ two navies clashed in what turned out to be the first significant defeat for the Royal Navy in more than a century. 

Sailors greet a sister ship on the high seas: a scene from The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands (1927)

Able Seaman Herman George Hart was the son of John Pyle Hart and Elizabeth Hart, of East Budleigh.  He was serving on board the armoured cruiser HMS Monmouth when it was sunk by enemy fire at the Battle of Coronel on 1 November 1914.  Built in 1901, the ship has been described as relatively lightly armed and of a smaller and cheaper design than the Drake class on which Monmouth was based.

Sailors loading cannon

The battle took place off the coast of Chile, when a Royal Navy squadron under the command of Rear-Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock met a German naval force commanded by Vice-Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee.  The enemy ships proved to be superior in speed, firepower, efficiency and numbers: Cradock’s flagship HMS Good Hope was destroyed along with HMS Monmouth. In total, 1,570 British officers and men died; the German fleet suffered just three wounded. 


HMS Monmouth, lost with 678 officers and enlisted men, including Able Seaman Hart

Shock at the defeat led to the sending of a large British force to the South Atlantic with the intention of tracking down and destroying the victorious German squadron.  At the Battle of the Falkland Islands on 8 December 1914, four enemy ships were sunk by the Royal Navy including Spee’s flagship, the Scharnhorst



A scene from The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands 

On 16 October 2014 the British Film Institute’s National Archive will stage the world premiere of a newly-restored silent film The Battles of Coronel and Falkland Islands.  Directed by Walter Summers and originally released in 1927, the film was hugely successful in its day.  The author John Buchan was one of those who contributed to the screenplay. 

The restored version has a new score, performed by 24 members of the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines in honour of the 24 members of the band who lost their lives with the sinking of HMS Monmouth at the Battle of Coronel.  More information about the film can be found on the BFI website at from which the above film clips were taken.

Able Seaman Hart’s name is listed on the Exmouth War Memorial in addition to the Plymouth Naval Memorial.

‘The Great War at Fairlynch’ 2015 exhibition at Budleigh Salterton’s very special museum! Reviews included: “Wonderful display on WW1, informative, bright and relevant. Well done!! 


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